George Mendonsa, sailor kissing woman in iconic V-J Day photo, dies

/ CBS/AP

Providence, R.I. — The ecstatic sailor shown kissing a woman in Times Square celebrating the end of World War II has died. George Mendonsa was 95.

Mendonsa's daughter, Sharon Molleur, told The Providence Journal Mendonsa fell and had a seizure Sunday at the assisted living facility in Middletown, Rhode Island, where he lived with his wife of 70 years.

In this Aug. 14, 1945 file photo provided by the U.S. Navy, a sailor and a woman kiss in New York's Times Square, as people celebrate the end of World War II. Victor Jorgensen / AP

Mendonsa was shown kissing Greta Zimmer Friedman, a dental assistant in a nurse's uniform, on Aug. 14, 1945. Known as V-J Day, it was the day Japan surrendered to the United States.

The photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt became one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century.

It was years before Mendonsa and Friedman were confirmed to be the couple. Friedman died in 2016 at the age of 92.

Mendonsa died two days before his 96th birthday.

"It was the moment that you come back from the Pacific, and finally the war ends," Mendonsa told CBS News' Michelle Miller in 2012.

"I did not see him approaching, and before I know it I was in this tight grip," Friedman said.

But Mendonsa said he didn't kiss her for long.

As the perfect strangers locked lips, world famous photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt snapped four pictures in just 10 seconds. CBS News reunited George and Greta in 2012 at the spot of their kiss for just the second time since that day in 1945.

"The excitement of the war bein' over, plus I had a few drinks," Mendonsa said. "So when I saw the nurse I grabbed her, and I kissed her."

But they weren't the only ones claiming credit. For more than 30 years, others claimed to be the ones in the photo. And for just as long, George has fought to set the record straight.

He found an ally in Lawrence Verria, a Rhode Island history teacher turned author. In his 2012 book, "The Kissing Sailor," Verria argues the evidence rules out everyone but the retired fisherman from Middletown, Rhode Island.

"It's a story about our nation and World War II," Verria said. "It's a story about a kiss. It's a story about a place. It's a story about a publication. But at the end it's a story about two national treasures, who for 60-some years never got the due that was theirs."

First published on February 18, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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